Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Swish by Joel Derfner

<3 u Joel (via)
Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever by Joel Derfner 

Reviewed by Ingrid

Published: 2008

It's about:

The delight of this book is not just in what it's about, but how it's written - so here's the description on Goodreads (which I suspect Joel wrote himself:)

Joel Derfner is gayer than you.

Don’t feel too bad about it, though, because he has made being gayer than you his life’s work. At summer day camp, when he was six, Derfner tried to sign up for needlepoint and flower arranging, but the camp counselors wouldn’t let him, because, they said, those activities were for girls only. Derfner, just to be contrary, embarked that very day on a solemn and sacred quest: to become the gayest person ever. Along the way he has become a fierce knitter, an even fiercer musical theater composer, and so totally the fiercest step aerobics instructor (just ask him—he’ll tell you himself).

In Swish, Derfner takes his readers on a flamboyant adventure along the glitter-strewn road from fabulous to divine. Whether he’s confronting the demons of his past at a GLBT summer camp, using the Internet to “meet” men—many, many men—or plunging headfirst (and nearly naked) into the shady world of go-go dancing, he reveals himself with every gayer-than-thou flourish to be not just a stylish explorer but also a fearless one. So fearless, in fact, that when he sneaks into a conference for people who want to cure themselves of their homosexuality, he turns the experience into one of the most fascinating, deeply moving chapters of the book. Derfner, like King Arthur, Christopher Columbus, and Indiana Jones—but with a better haircut and a much deeper commitment to fad diets—is a hero destined for legend.

I thought:

I loved this book. Ever since Joel commented on our blog, which lead me to read his blog, I've been obsessed. I don't know what it is with girls and gays. But I love Joel. His sense of humor is FUNNY. He is honest about his emotions in a way that comes off a bit self-deprecating, which in some cases might be irritating, but it works for Joel and gives his writing the spice that makes it just right.
This book was well balanced though between funny and meaningful. I was a mess during the second half of the book where he goes to the Evangelical conference for ex-gays. I have a friend who is making a documentary about what it's like to be gay and Mormon, and I've been helping him organize his footage. Many of the people he has interviewed have wanted desperately to change their sexual orientation, much like the people Joel met at the Evangelical conference. Since Joel has obviously embraced the gay lifestyle and identity, he had a lot of room to criticize these people (which he did, at first, and it was funny.) But the absolute best part of this section was when Joel started to empathize with the ex-gays. That's why I thought this book was so great - it was, like I said, ridiculously funny, but also deeply emotional. As I finished the book, I thought about how often what we believe informs our happiness and how we see ourselves. In some ways, the ex-gays were happy in ways Joel realized he couldn't be, and he recognized this. I loved how Joel was able to reach out beyond himself in this way.

Lastly, I'd like to direct your attention to this wonderful quote. I knew when I read this that this book and I were meant to be:
"TOM: How about these salt-and-vinegar potato chips?
JOEL (his voice full of wonder): Oh, my God, I love salt-and-vinegar potato chips!
TOM (his voice also full of wonder): Really? Me too!"


Verdict: Stick it on the shelf.

Reading Recommendations: Check out Joel's blog here. He writes extremely entertaining posts, such as this one.

Warnings: Graphic descriptions of gay sex. Swear words.

Favorite excerpts:

 "'Blessing,' said Anne Heche's mother, 'is asking God to interfere and bring somebody into the proper relationship with Him.'
   Nancy Heche was speaking at the opening session of the Freedom Conference as a represetative of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX), a group started in 1998 that apparently modeled its title on that of another organization, Parents and Friends of LEsbians and Gays (PFLAG). Her point seemed to be that it was a direct result of her prayers that her daughter Anne had dumped Ellen DeGeneres and become heterosexual (though Nancy did not touch on the causal relathionship between her prayers and Anne's claim that as Jesus' half sister Celestia she enjoyed communicating with extraterrestrials). I opened the notebook I had bought to record my impressions of the ex-gays. 'LOVE her skirt/blouse combo!' I scribbed. 'So sparkly, looks great w/ green curtain.'"